Heart transplant girlis awake and talking

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Her throat remains painfully sore but six-year-old Sally Slater, who had a heart transplant at the 11th hour, managed yesterday to utter her first two words since the operation.

Sally woke up and was asked by her mother, Bridget, if she wanted a drink. "Yes, orange," she replied - the first time Mrs Slater, 36, had heard her speak since her illness last month.

Later, sitting up but still mildly sedated because of her operation, Sally drank diluted orange juice through a straw.

Her father Jon, 36, said yesterday: "I got the news this morning. It's absolutely fantastic news. It's only a couple of words, but it means another step on the road to recovery.

"It's hard to keep your feet on the ground when things are going so well. Hopefully in the next couple of days she will continue to improve and we can speak to her properly."

Sally, of Malham, North Yorkshire, is breathing without a ventilator and staff at the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne, hope she will come off it permanently within days.

Almost five weeks ago, she fell ill with avirus that caused cardiomyopathy, a condition that attacks the heart muscles. Surgeons had to fit an artificial heart beforea donorcame forward in response to a media appeal from her parents.

A hospital spokeswoman said: "There is still a long way to go in her recovery. The next step is to see if she can stay off [the ventilator] permanently. The doctors are very pleased with her progress."